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Letters from the Dhamma Brothers: Meditation Behind Bars

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  104 ratings  ·  25 reviews
Through intimate letters, interviews, and stories, this narrative reveals the impact that a life-changing retreat had on a group of inmates at the highest level maximum-security state prison in Alabama. The 38 participants in the first-ever intensive, silent 10-day program inside the walls of a corrections facility—many serving life sentences without parole—detail the rang ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published September 1st 2008 by Pariyatti Press
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Jenny Phillips
Jun 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
Instead of leaving a review of my own book, I would like to invite anyone that has read it to connect with me on Goodreads. Tell me what you thought! Send me book recommendations! Check out the film that accompanies it and tell me what you think! I look forward to chatting with you. - Jenny
Nov 30, 2008 added it
Recommends it for: prison reformists, Buddhists, meditators, policy makers
I saw the documentary for this book but the book is much more powerful. I was able to read the letters of the prisoners who had taken a Vipassana course and learn about their personal journeys to find peace and liberation within a system and environment that challenges their spiritual well-being in almost every other way on a daily basis. It was inspiring to me as a Vipassana meditator too. My struggle to meditate everday pales in comparison to the obstacles they face; their determination and de ...more
Nov 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: faves, vipassana
I have read this book multiple times. Reading this book lead me into the Vipassana practice myself. If these men in this end-of-the-line prison could practice silence and Vipassana for 10 days within a prison, certainly I with all my freedom could do the same.

The stories of the men inspire me, while I am on retreat and daily as well.

An incredible read if you really want to get grounded.

Standard on my bookshelf.
Jan 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
I really loved this book! We can all learn from each other without a doubt. Truly inspiring to read about the healing power of Vipassana that can replace the negative cycle of punishment and neglect that prisoners experience. It seems this book will make many hopeful that previously doubted transformations can take place.
Jan 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Can meditation help prisoners create transformation in their lives and prepare them for a productive and peaceful life? The Dhamma Brothers is evidence that it can. The notion that a maximum security prison in rural Alabama ever allowed Vipassana meditation to be taught within its walls, to some of its toughest offenders, is a miracle in itself. But the real miracles happened as twenty men embraced the opportunity to sit for ten days, silently, and practice meditation. Not 'blissing out', but fa ...more
Jun 17, 2017 rated it liked it
I am particularly touched by the management team of Donaldson, they are trying their best in their authority to improve the well being of the inmates. I can imagine how much bureaucracy and obstacles to pull this through in order to have a Vipasana retreat within the maximum security prison like this. And i salute the efforts those inmates put in, whose intention to better themselves even at the end they may just grow old in the prison.
Sam Woodward
Aug 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"One of the most sensitive expressions of hope, capacity for change and potential vehicles for institutional health that I have read in my career in criminal justice." - Scott Harshbarger, fomer Attorney General, Massachussetts.

This fascinating book centres around a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat, held in a maximum security prison in Alabama. Author Jenny Phillips provides us with some background about Vipassana meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka, as well as details of how the course was o
Josh Smith
Jul 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Decent read. It speaks on the power of meditation and Vipassana. The way people changed their outward expressions by looking inwards. If you regularly practice some form of meditation, spirituality, or Buddhism then it'll feel like a refresher course. If you're new to it all then you'll probably take a solid chunk out of this and delve into a new path.
This book also touched on the criminal justice system and the places we go wrong. The way we look at it as a punishment rather than a place for r
Jodi McMaster
Jan 23, 2014 rated it liked it
It's a shame this book isn't more captivating. The companion documentary is fabulous, and the beginning and end of this book supplement the documentary, but the central part of the book is too vague and repetitive to hold much interest. A few of the letters give concrete examples of the challenges faced by the prisoners who underwent the Vipassana training, but most of them simply say things like "it's hard."

It's unfortunate because the substance of what the book is trying to portray, the trans
Jul 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
An interview about this book is what introduced me to Vipassana meditation and for that I will alway be grateful. This book itself is really interesting and inspiring. It tells the stories of inmates who practiced Vipassana and what happened at the prison. I wish that every prisoner could go through this process. For anyone interested in Vipassana meditation, the prison system, or meditation in prisons, this book would be good to read. As the title shows, it is primarily letters written back and ...more
Julie Webb
Mar 12, 2009 is currently reading it
This documentary has inspired me and showed me that healing can be brought about even in the worst of circumstances. The courage, and bravery these inmates showed by seeking their authentic selves while attending a two-week silent Vipassana meditation course offered in the prison's gym. The documentary highlights the individual prisoners, the meditation facilitator's, and the amazing results this program brought to all involved.
Jan 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is amazing the kinds of obstacles one faces when you have the desire to help, or be helped in the prison systems in the United States. I'm not saying that I believe that all prisoners can, or have the desire to put in the effort to be 'changed' and kept out of the revolving door of incarceration. I just believe that we are at a point where something should be tried.
Jeffrey Reidhead
Apr 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
The letters from these men were fascinating. I remembered the Vipassana course that I took a couple of years ago. Seeing how this mediation form was able to be used successfully in prisons is really great to see. Rehabilitation is essential to prevent individuals from coming in and out of prison repeatedly. The fact that this was done in Alabama is all the more impressive to me.
May 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Very inspirational. No one is beyond hope & beauty can emerge even in the most difficult places. I learned many lessons from these prisoners... and they showed the power of living in the "Now" and accepting the situations of their lives. ...more
Dec 18, 2008 added it
I read this book as a follow-up to seeing the documentary, "The Dhamma Brothers" (2007 film). Both were profound works. Check out "" for further information. A must for anyone with a meditation practice. I am humbled. ...more
Pake Hall
Jan 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: zen
This book is a very welcome and warm effort to show how the practice continues to deepen inside prison when the retreat is over. The correspondence is touching and moves my heart deeply. It inspires me even more to continue the work with meditation in prisons we do in Sweden. Deep bows
Jessica Zu
Aug 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful book. The inmates in Donalson prison provide so much inspirations for me to keep practicing vipassana daily! They are truly my Dhamma Brothers!

Dhamma only works when you practice it, otherwise it is just a wonderful dream.
May 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Wonderful book describing, in the meditators' own words, the obstacles faced and the freedom that comes from meditation, even within the walls of a maximum security prison. Freedom and happiness ARE an inside job.
Jan 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
Hardened criminals make a dramatic u-turn. Truly remarkable account of the effects of Vipassana meditation in a max security prison setting. Very touching,compelling,and hopeful. Truly remarkable to see what compassion and trust can do to promote healing...
Anuj Sainjoo
Sep 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
The knowledge is deep. Its such a compassionate thing to look at the people suffering in the one hand, and its such a great joy to understand that those sufferings endure no mere long in their life in the other hand.
Powerful story. Too bad that the corrections officers ended up doubting them in the end. "Fake it till you make it" thing... It's real. It works.
Mar 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This follows up on the thoughts and events of the documentary. Very interesting and sad and real.
A U-K suggested film.
Christie Manning
Jan 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed reading this book. Great companion to the film which is a MUST WATCH: ...more
Jan 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Very thought-provoking. A book about high-level security convicts undertaking a 10-day silent vipassana (meditation). Moving.
May 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: dharma
Incredibly moving letters among/between prisoners in an Alabama prison and their meditation teachers, after taking a 10-day Vipassana meditation course in prison. Wonderful movie, too.
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Jenny Phillips is a cultural anthropologist, writer, and psychiatric nurse. For over fifteen years, Phillips has provided services in the mental health department of a large medical center in Concord, MA. Her specialties include crisis intervention, family therapy, behavioral medicine, and hypnotherapy.

Over the past ten years, she has worked with men in both state and county prisons, teaching cour

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